Answer this ONE question

Your answer will be your solution!

25th March 2018

From Guildford, England

I get to spend a lot of time in mainstream schools working with some brilliant teachers, teaching assistants and school leaders. Their devotion to their students is unwavering, as is their dedication, drive and desire to see each young person reach their academic potential. In my conversations with these professionals, one of the most (if not the most) consistent concerns they raise is that they do now know how to teach/include/differentiate/cater for the educational needs of their kids with learning difficulties.

I regularly hear a number of versions of the following phrases:

- It’s hard teaching them in a class this big when they need help with everything.

- They can only work with 1:1 support.

- The work is too difficult for them.

- They can’t do anything independently!

- How do I help them when I've got 25-30 other kids and no support?

It's not easy!

Pointing the finger

The culprit: our university teacher training programmes provide little in the way of how to teach students with learning difficulties

And who could blame the teachers?

Not me!

They’ve not had the training, support, or advice on understanding and applying the instructional methods best suited to learners with these sorts of difficulties. They're told they have to get their other students to a high-achievement level and that's how they are assessed. It’s like we’re all trying to play a game of catch-up with Usain Bolt – forever elusive!

The lack of real-world experience with educational instructional methods in our teacher training programmes fosters and invites this deep sense of helplessness (at best; sense of failure at worst) teachers feel with their most challenged learners. When nearly 300,000 kids in British schools* have learning difficulties (, wouldn’t you say it’s time we figured this whole thing out?

*In the USA, the number is 6.6 million. However, teacher training heavily emphasises special education instruction, professionalisation and training in universities.

By offering limited training for how to teach students with learning difficulties, our universities are essentially setting up our teachers to play constant catch-up. This is NOT OK!


This brings us to our question and the reason you probably clicked on this article.

Answer this and immediately begin acting on your answer:

What can your student(s) do independently?

Image (left): a rough guide as to when to begin acting on your answer to the aforementioned question :-)

The answer to this question will be your answer for how to begin truly teaching them. It's your starting point, and your starting point always determines your outcome.

Find out what they can do on their own, independently, and heck- because they're kids - even enjoyably!

If you want a rough guide as to what “independent” learning is, look no further than this rough guide we use for teaching reading:

Independence is 95-100% success – every time, all the time.

Instructional (skilled teaching) should take place on items a student has 90-95% independent success, and anything below 90% independence is considered “Frustration”.

This is the starting point. You’re going to have to go off-piste which might upset a few people, but it is for your kids and their futures. This is how you bring about change. Begin at that independent level and move toward supporting them on instructional level learning materials.

It could mean we start at some basics for some of our students (depending on their abilities, of course). It might even feel "too basic" for a mainstream school. But that’s OK because it’s simply the starting point for that student and it's what they need! Also, because you’re so brilliant you’ll help them move forward!

I find it a privilege to help teachers discover the answer to this question from time to time. Next week, I’m going to talk a bit more about this and get into some specifics because I think it’s an issue we all face from time to time.

And while I don’t now have the means to change university teacher training programmes*, I can help teachers on the ground in the real world.

*But if you know anyone…